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Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference - 6

November 2009



Each month we bring you this special column on grandparenting written by our expert contributor Jeanne Davis.

Jeanne will be covering a wide range of related topics in future editions of   If you have a subject you would like covered by Jeanne, please email us at:



By Jeanne Davis

In this column, Jeanne Davis reports on the pleasures and challenges facing a growing band of grandparents who are having to bring up children the second time around

“Shane is a good boy, but like any 10 year old he can be trouble. Sometimes I just want to go off caravanning. For six months!” This could be the lament of any mother wearied by trying to keep up with an energetic youngster. But Jean is a 61-year-old grandmother who, with her husband, is raising their grandson. Their daughter was mentally ill and could not care for the child.

Grandparents in the UK who are bringing up their grandchildren are a growing band. “We’ve always had mental illness and the death of young mothers,” says the founder of a support group of second–time-around parents. But the major factor, she believes, is the Children Act of 1989. “Before the act, when courts were ruling on who should take care of children whose parents were unable to look after them, the courts were putting children into local authority care, who then often placed them with foster parents and put them up for adoption. Sensible and happily, we’ve gone from taking the children out of the family to ‘let’s keep it in the family’. So long as the grandparents can do it. Or other relatives.”

It’s not a simple process to become parents to your grandchildren. As grandparents, you don’t have any automatic rights—you must apply to the court which can grant different types of ‘order’, such as a residence order or a special guardianship order. The process can be complicated and time-consuming.

Raising children is a daunting task, but there are special challenges for grandparents. How do you explain to a six year old why your mother or father doesn’t want you or is unable to keep you? What intricacies of logic do you search for to explain to two adolescents that daddy really does care for them even though he chose a second marriage after their mother died and the stepchildren that came with it?

You learn quickly, said the members of this support group, to reassure them constantly of your love. You discover that they need more kisses and cuddles than your own children did at a similar stage.

Is the age gap a challenge? To help with homework, many of the group have gone back to school, to grasp the new maths and to master the advantages of computer technology.

Children, of course, cost money which is tough on a retirement income. Sharon and her husband took on the care of two granddaughters. She has kept her full- time job while she and her husband spend their retirement savings on providing for their grandchildren, who are now teenagers.

For those grandparents who have given up their jobs to care for the children, some local authorities will help with a means- tested maintenance allowance. As always, local council policies and procedures vary considerable. Despite all this, these grandparents are unanimous about their decision to take grandchildren into their lives. “We couldn’t do otherwise,” the group agrees.

A Grandfather’s Tale

Joe is 50. He is raising Elizabeth, now aged three. Widowed young, Joe had already raised three girls on his own. He was enjoying life as the owner of a bar in Malaga on the Costa del Sol when “the call came from mom”.

“My youngest, a teenager, was in trouble, pregnant, so I sold the bar and came back to England. She and the baby lived with me for a while but then moved away.

“When the baby was eight months my daughter couldn’t cope. I thought, I’m the grandfather, why can’t she come live with me?

“It’s much easier raising Elizabeth than when I raised my own. I know what to do now. I love it when she comes into my room in the morning and gives me a big kiss and says, ‘Wake up, granddad. It’s time to get up’.

“I suppose I could look for a partner now, but you don’t have much of a social life when you’re looking after a baby. Right now, Elizabeth is the most important person to me – my family comes first.”

A Grandmother’s Tale

Marie is 50, a retired nurse. She was looking forward to time for herself when it became clear that her grandson Craig needed her.

“My daughter had quite a lot of problems and had difficulty caring for Craig. He was coming up for three when he came to live with me. Now my greatest joy is seeing Craig happy. He’s doing well in school, still immature compared to other six year olds but that’s to be expected because he didn’t have the attention he should have had as a baby and toddler. He’s a quiet child and shy.

“Of course, there are problems. He sees his mother once a fortnight and when he comes back he seems a little unsettled. That day might have its problems, but it resolves itself and the next day, he’s happy again.”

Resource: The Grandparents’ Association. Help-line: 0845 4349585. Provides advice, information and support to grandparents who are caring for their grandchildren.


Previous articles in the series:

1. Grandparents do make a difference
2. When Grandparents are on duty
3. To Discipline or not
4. The long Distance Grandparent
5. When the parents separate
6. Second time around


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